On Point: Ukraine's Summer 2023 Counteroffensive of Armored Infiltration

by Austin Bay
July 7, 2023

In response to Western criticism that its counter-offensive is moving too slowly, the Ukrainian government is claiming that the last ten days of combat in eastern Ukraine have been "particularly fruitful."

Facing fierce Russian resistance, the frontline has been moving eastward in lurches, two kilometers here, three kilometers there.

On July 3 Oleksiy Danilov, a senior Ukrainian defense official, announced via Twitter "At this stage of active hostilities, Ukraine's Defense Forces are fulfilling the number one task -- the maximum destruction of manpower, equipment, fuel depots, military vehicles, command posts, artillery and air defense forces of the Russian army."

He is arguing metrics other than kilometers matter: the incremental destruction of Russian forces.

Perhaps some Western media expected a Desert Storm-type armor breakthrough -- Desert Blitzkrieg. If so, they missed a major component in high-speed combined arms warfare, present in World War Two and Desert Storm: air power.

Ukraine doesn't have an air force.

Tanks, armored infantry and self-propelled artillery need air cover to maneuver. Air interdiction of enemy reserve forces and close air support (CAS, i.e., airstrikes on adjacent enemy forces) "soften" the enemy so mobile forces can breakthrough and achieve a decisive victory.

In spring 2022 Ukraine sought F-16s or similar Western planes, but the Biden administration, worried about Kremlin reaction, balked and denied high-performance strike aircraft. I guarantee you military historians will criticize the Biden administration's insistent hesitation to provide crucial weapons.

So -- Ukraine's summer 2023 counteroffensive moves at the pace of armored infiltration -- tank osmosis.

Given Ukraine's lack of air support, StrategyPage.com recently noted a slow and measured pace with high quality armored vehicles can be the wisest choice, especially when confronting prepared defensive positions (trenches, bunkers and obstacles) protected with modern anti-tank and antipersonnel mines.

The StrategyPage report acknowledged Ukraine's June offensive was successful but moving slowly. Why? Ukrainian forces were encountering "extensive fortifications, including obstacles to vehicle movement as well as ...lots of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines... The mines themselves do not destroy tanks and other vehicles but inflict "mobility kills" -- stopping the vehicle.

American M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2 tanks have improved armor, sensors and weapons, but they are still track-laying vehicles that can be stopped by an anti-tank mine. The armored bulldozers used by military combat engineer units also move on tracks. According to StrategyPage, this is the bottom line: '...mines remain the major threat to tanks and any advance involving tanks has to be led by armored mine-clearing vehicles." There are ways to detonate mines with air-delivered munitions but before the tanks and armored infantry vehicles moved through the area should be swept (inspected) by mine-clearing vehicles and engineers.

It's dangerous and time consuming. These operations also must be protected from Russian attack.

Where is the slow offensive going?

In terms of direction, logic says Ukraine should try to cut Russia's land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula -- in other words, go south toward the Sea of Azov. That would be a major operational defeat for Russia. Civilian satellites show that Russia has dug trenches and built defensive positions to blunt such an attack.

East to the Russian border liberates occupied Ukrainian territory. That makes sense, and the latest report mentions a village liberated after an attack forced a Russian unit to retreat.

I suspect Ukraine is still probing for weaknesses, not simply a weak point in the defensive line but weak morale. Danilov says the offensive is targeting the Russian Army. At the physical level that translates into destroying equipment and supplies and killing or wounding troops. At the war-winning level it means destroying the enemy's cohesion -- what keeps his forces fighting, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Ukraine has proven to be a "nation in arms" -- a warrior state with the will to fight. Nations in arms know what they fight for -- which is usually their very existence.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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